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April 7, 2008

California Adopts Sophisticated User Doctrine in Failure-to-Warn Cases

The California Supreme Court unanimously held that the sophisiticated user doctrine applies in California, bringing that state's law into line with both federal law and the law in most states. Johnson v. American Standard Co., Cal. No. S139184, April 3, 2008, involved a claim by an air-conditioning technician that his lung disease was caused by exposure to phosgene gas released when the evaporators in air conditioning systems are serviced.  Johnson alleged that the defendants knew that phosgene gas forms when a commonly-used refrigerant is exposed to high heat, such as during welding, but failed to provide adequate warnings of that hazard.

American Standard argued that Johnson was a trained and certified professional who knew or should have known of an obvious risk widely known by industry technicians.  "Although manufacturers are responsible for products that contain dangers of which the public is unaware, they are not insurers, even under strict liability, for the mistakes or carelessness of consumers who should know of the dangers involved," according to the court.  A manufacturer is not liable to a sophisticated user of its product for failure to warn of a risk if the sophisticated user "knew or should have known of that risk."  The court conclulded that the evidence was clear that HVAC technicians knew or should have known of this risk and upheld the court of appeals dismissal of Johnson's claim.  See the Product Safety & Liability Reporter summary of the case.


April 7, 2008 | Permalink


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